For nearly 50 years, investigators have been searching for a suspect in the brutal slaying of two young women at a beach cottage in Virginia Beach. They now believe they may have their answer.
Eighty-year-old Ernest Broadnax was arrested Monday in New York City for the murders of Lynn Seethaler and Janice Pietropola, two longtime friends from Pittsburgh who were discovered dead in their seaside motel on June 30, 1973 after they failed to show up for their check-out time.
Pietropola, who had been working as an editorial assistant for a financial magazine, had been raped, strangled and shot three times in the head. Seethaler, who had been a secretary, had been shot in the head twice and had her throat slashed with a broken wine bottle, according to The Virginian Pilot.
The women, both 19 at the time, had graduated from high school just the year before.
Investigators were able to link Broadnax to the crime using “advanced forensic technology” after receiving a “strong lead” in the case in the fall of 2018, according to a statement from the Virginia Beach Police Department.
Officers from the New York Police Department arrested Broadnax on Monday, giving the 80-year-old a bottle of water and leading him away without using handcuffs, according to neighbor Kevin Wallace.
“They gave it to him, dressed him up, and he went quietly. He went very quietly,” Wallace told The New York Daily News.
The case has haunted investigators for decades. Police searched tirelessly after the murders to find a potential suspect in the case, putting every detective on the case, according to the Associated Press, and compiling a case file that was more than 1,300 pages by the late 1980s.
“We did everything we could,” William Haden, who was a police captain at the time, told the Associated Press in 1998. “We flew in the helicopter, we searched rooftops, we climbed into manholes.”
Police believed the attacker had come into the cottage by removing a screen in the window and climbing into the room, although it wasn’t clear whether he had been waiting inside for the women or whether he came in while they were asleep.
During the week the women were vacationing at the beach, they had met several men and had even gone on several dates and invited some of the men to their room for a beer, making it unclear whether the women had known their attacker before the brutal slaying.
The women’s bodies were found partially clothed by a motel employee after they didn’t report for their scheduled check-out time. Their purses had been dumped on the floor, but investigators never believed the motive in the slayings had been robbery.
The crime occurred on Haden’s 31st birthday, making the case personal for the police investigator.
“I have always referred to them as ‘my girls,’” he told the AP in 1998. “I still don’t know why this case was so personal. There is no way I can describe that to you.”
Broadnax has a long criminal history with 10 previous arrests for burglary, assault and possession of a weapon. He has also served time in a New York state prison, first a three-year sentence beginning in 1999 and an additional eight years behind bars beginning in 2006.
The conviction in 2006 for assault resulted from a violent altercation with another man, where police say he beat the man with a metal pipe and shattered his arm, The Daily News reports.
He is now facing two counts of second-degree murder and one count of rape in the deaths of Seethaler and Pietropola. He is currently being held in New York as he waits extradition.
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